• The challenge of managing soil functions at multiple scales: An optimisation study of the synergistic and antagonistic trade-offs between soil functions in Ireland

      Valujeva, Kristine; O’Sullivan, Lilian; Gutzler, Carsten; Fealy, Reamonn; Schulte, Rogier P.; European Commission (Elsevier, 2016-08-09)
      Recent forecasts show a need to increase agricultural production globally by 60% from 2005 to 2050, in order to meet a rising demand from a growing population. This poses challenges for scientists and policy makers to formulate solutions on how to increase food production and simultaneously meet environmental targets such as the conservation and protection of water, the conservation of biodiversity, and the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. As soil and land are subject to growing pressure to meet both agronomic and environmental targets, there is an urgent need to understand to what extent these diverging targets can be met simultaneously. Previously, the concept of Functional Land Management (FLM) was developed as a framework for managing the multifunctionality of land. In this paper, we deploy and evaluate the concept of FLM, using a real case-study of Irish agriculture. We investigate a number of scenarios, encompassing combinations of intensification, expansion and land drainage, for managing three soil functions, namely primary productivity, water purification and carbon sequestration. We use proxy-indicators (milk production, nitrate concentrations and area of new afforestation) to quantify the ‘supply’ of these three soil functions, and identify the relevant policy targets to frame the ‘demand’ for these soil functions. Specifically, this paper assesses how soil management and land use management interact in meeting these multiple targets simultaneously, by employing a non-spatial land use model for livestock production in Ireland that assesses the supply of soil functions for contrasting soil drainage and land use categories. Our results show that, in principle, it is possible to manage these three soil functions to meet both agronomic and environmental objectives, but as we add more soil functions, the management requirements become increasingly complex. In theory, an expansion scenario could meet all of the objectives simultaneously. However, this scenario is highly unlikely to materialise due to farm fragmentation, low land mobility rates and the challenging afforestation rates required for achieving the greenhouse gas reduction targets. In the absence of targeted policy interventions, an unmanaged combination of scenarios is more likely to emerge. The challenge for policy formation on future land use is how to move from an unmanaged combination scenario towards a managed combination scenario, in which the soil functions are purposefully managed to meet current and future agronomic and environmental targets, through a targeted combination of intensification, expansion and land drainage. Such purposeful management requires that the supply of each soil function is managed at the spatial scale at which the corresponding demand manifests itself. This spatial scale may differ between the soil functions, and may range from farm scale to national scale. Finally, our research identifies the need for future research to also consider and address the misalignment of temporal scales between the supply and demand of soil functions.
    • A Functional Land Management conceptual framework under soil drainage and land use scenarios

      Coyle, Cait; Creamer, Rachel E.; Schulte, Rogier P.; O'Sullivan, Lilian; Jordan, Phil; Institute of Technology, Sligo (Elsevier, 2015-11-15)
      Agricultural soils offer multiple soil functions, which contribute to a range of ecosystem services, and the demand for the primary production function is expected to increase with a growing world population. Other key functions on agricultural land have been identified as water purification, carbon sequestration, habitat biodiversity and nutrient cycling, which all need to be considered for sustainable intensification. All soils perform all functions simultaneously, but the variation in the capacity of soils to supply these functions is reviewed in terms of defined land use types (arable, bio-energy, broadleaf forest, coniferous forest, managed grassland, other grassland and Natura 2000) and extended to include the influence of soil drainage characteristics (well, moderately/imperfect, poor and peat). This latter consideration is particularly important in the European Atlantic pedo-climatic zone; the spatial scale of this review. This review develops a conceptual framework on the multi-functional capacity of soils, termed Functional Land Management, to facilitate the effective design and assessment of agri-environmental policies. A final functional soil matrix is presented as an approach to show the consequential changes to the capacity of the five soil functions associated with land use change on soils with contrasting drainage characteristics. Where policy prioritises the enhancement of particular functions, the matrix indicates the potential trade-offs for individual functions or the overall impact on the multi-functional capacity of soil. The conceptual framework is also applied by land use area in a case study, using the Republic of Ireland as an example, to show how the principle of multi-functional land use planning can be readily implemented.
    • Nitrogen yield advantage from grass-legume mixtures is robust over a wide range of legume proportions and environmental conditions

      Suter, Matthias; Connolly, John; Finn, John; Loges, R.; Kirwan, Laura; Sebastia, Maria Teresa; Luscher, A.; European Union (Wiley, 28/01/2015)
      Current challenges to global food security require sustainable intensification of agriculture through initiatives that include more efficient use of nitrogen (N), increased protein self-sufficiency through home-grown crops, and reduced N losses to the environment. Such challenges were addressed in a continental-scale field experiment conducted over three years, in which the amount of total nitrogen yield (Ntot) and the gain of N yield in mixtures as compared to grass monocultures (Ngainmix) was quantified from four-species grass-legume stands with greatly varying legume proportions. Stands consisted of monocultures and mixtures of two N2 fixing legumes and two non-fixing grasses.The amount of Ntot of mixtures was significantly greater (P ≤ 0.05) than that of grass monocultures at the majority of evaluated sites in all three years. Ntot and thus Ngainmix increased with increasing legume proportion up to one third of legumes. With higher legume percentages, Ntot and Ngainmix did not continue to increase. Thus, across sites and years, mixtures with one third proportion of legumes attained ~95% of the maximum Ntot acquired by any stand and had 57% higher Ntot than grass monocultures.Realized legume proportion in stands and the relative N gain in mixture (Ngainmix/Ntot in mixture) were most severely impaired by minimum site temperature (R = 0.70, P = 0.003 for legume proportion; R = 0.64, P = 0.010 for Ngainmix/Ntot in mixture). Nevertheless, the relative N gain in mixture was not correlated to site productivity (P = 0.500), suggesting that, within climatic restrictions, balanced grass-legume mixtures can benefit from comparable relative gains in N yield across largely differing productivity levels.We conclude that the use of grass-legume mixtures can substantially contribute to resource-efficient agricultural grassland systems over a wide range of productivity levels, implying important savings in N fertilizers and thus greenhouse gas emissions and a considerable potential for climate change mitigation.